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R2K concerned over ‘Grabber’ device

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A disturbing mass-surveillance device capable of intercepting 10 000 cellphone lines and accessing the personal information of users is raising concerns over a potential threat to the South African public’s right to privacy. While the ‘Grabber’ has allegedly been found in the possession of some private citizens, Right to Know (R2K) has called for answers on claims that government may also be using the secretive technology.

Information on the device is still limited but the Grabber is assumed to imitate a cellphone tower, forcing all mobile devices within its vicinity to redirect towards it. This allows for ‘grabbing’ of SMS and call information, the ability to send messages using an individual’s number, and access to the banking and other private information stored on a user’s phone. It is still unclear whether the device allows for listening in on live call conversations however.

Murray Hunter of the R2K Secrecy Focus Group said that while such a portable device could be of extreme value to organised crime, even more concerning was how easy it would be to produce at home.

“We’ve heard reports from digital security researchers that have been to conferences where people have basically put these things together as a demonstration to say that this is how vulnerable we are, this is how easy it is to create a device that is capable of this kind of surveillance,” he said.

The rise of the Grabber raises questions of the broader public’s right to privacy, and Hunter said they were seeking answers as to what steps government were taking to secure the population against such a device, or whether they were possibly making use of it as well. He also suggested signs that global intelligence agencies in countries like the U.S. were also in possession of such devices, and using them under the guise of policing purposes.

“It’s actually not that simple because when you use a device like this it is incredibly invasive and you are not using it target one bad guy, because when you turn it on it is targeting everyone in the area,” he stressed.

Hunter reiterated that the claims that such technology was being used in South Africa was of grave concern, and government need play open cards on whether they were using it, and for what purpose. VOC (Mubeen Banderker)

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